The tragic tale of a German resistance fighter was the subject of a brave new Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival piece.
It was perhaps not the most obvious subject for a classical ensemble at Lawrence Batley Theatre, who had teamed up with composer Christopher Fox to mix spoken word with operatic voices and audio recordings to commemorate the life of his aunt.
But this had no bearing on their ability to present the plight of school mistress Elisabeth Von Thadden, who was arrested and murdered by the Nazis, to light in a poignant and thought provoking way.
Set in 1944 in her prison cell while she awaits execution after being found guilty of conspiracy against the war effort and aiding the enemy, Widerstehen explained the preceding events while exploring the potential emotions both she and the prison officer, who decides to keep her company until her death and later informs her family of her braveness, may have felt.
Anxiety, fate, and reminiscence were all evoked through cello, violins and a woodwind section, whose sounds of varying tones and tempo weaved through each other.
At times soft and other times more blunt and sharp in sound, the rhythm intensified before fading to an eerie silence.
It was well overlaid with the voice of the prison officer, who spoke harshly in German, seemingly to emphasise the bleak reality of the situation.
Meanwhile, the opera singer Truike van der Poe, who played the part of Elisabeth, conveyed her brave decision to keep her integrity through a bold, un-waivering voice, which was at the same sweet sounding to suggest that she held onto some element of hope if not for here at least for the potential of a Nazi free future.
The use of a several minute piece soundscape, which was made up of angry, German voices punctuated with frequent cries of ‘nein’ worked well to contrast the unrelenting positive attitude of Elisabeth with the negative ones of the regressive and brutal Nazi leaders.
However, I think that it could have worked just as well had it been played for a shorter stretch of time.
The tubular bells, which rang out slowly one by one, worked to emphasise the end of Elisabeth’s life, which I thought aptly conjured up sorrow amongst the audience.
The one potential let down was the lack of an exploration into the character of the prison officer to try discover why she felt compelled to inform Elisabeth’s family of her continued integrity up to her death.
An emotionally exhausting performance, it skillfully acquainted those watching with the sorry story of one of the lesser known victims of the Nazi reign of terror.